CBC Ideas: “The Pulpit, Power & Politics: Evangelicalism’s Thumbprint on America”

Trump court evangelicals

I recently joined Jemar Tisby and Molly Worthen on Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s “Ideas.”  You can listen here.

Here is a taste of the accompanying article:

John Fea has written an entire book about the apparently contradictory relationship of evangelicals and Donald Trump, basing the title on one of Trump’s oft-repeated catch phrases: Believe Me.

He sees the championing of Donald Trump by evangelicals through two lenses — as an historian, and as a committed evangelical himself.

Historically, evangelicals began courting agents of secular power in the Reagan era. The trouble he finds in this trajectory is that the evangelical church’s fixation on abortion, appointments to the Supreme Court, and supporting politicians they see as a means to a theological end, opens up the risk of losing credibility both to a generation of younger believers, and their own capacity to bear witness authentically.

The root of “evangelical,” he points out, means “good news, which in turn means a commitment to social justice and harmony. He dubs those seeking to curry favour and influence with the president “court evangelicals.”

Christian belief, he posits, doesn’t entail posing for a photo op and aligning oneself with power, but — like the prophet Nathan — telling the truth to it. 

Read the entire piece here.

Trumps Critics are “Satanic” and Other Evangelical Craziness on the Eve of Impeachment Hearings.

 

baker Bookhouse

 

Two books on evangelicals and Trump on the shelf at Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI

Newsweek is calling attention to a televangelist named Irvin Baxter who believes that Donald Trump is the only thing standing in the way of the coming of the Antichrist.  Anyone who does not support Trump is working for Satan.

Here is a taste:

 

Evangelical pastor Irvin Baxter, a televangelist who is the founder and president of Endtime Ministries, said Donald Trump’s critics are “satanic” while claiming that Satan was angry that the president is “messing up” his goal of creating a unified global government.

Baxter, who hosts a nationally syndicated biblical prophecy program on TV, End of the Age, made the remarks during Monday’s Jim Bakker Show, as first reported by Right Wing Watch. He argued that Trump is hated because he stands in opposition to a “satanic” plot that has been in the works for 100 years to create a world government system.

“All of a sudden this guy by the name of Trump comes along,” Baxter said. “He starts campaigning against their globalistic system. The first thing he did was pull us out of the Paris climate change accord, which was—.” The evangelical leader was then cut off, as the studio audience erupted in applause.

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, court evangelical Steven Strang, the author of God and Donald Trump, has a new book coming out describing the 2020 election as “spiritual warfare” and claiming that “satanic schemes are so brazen on key issues that the book was written to explain what’s at stake.”  Strang is the CEO of Charisma magazine.  I wrote about him in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Learn more about Strang and his new book at Right Wing Watch.

Anti-Trump Books are Mysteriously Disappearing from an Idaho Public Library

Idaho Library

Coeur d’Alene Public Library, Coeur d’Alene Iowa

No word on whether or not Believe Me is one of the books missing.

Here is The New York Times:

From her office next to the public computer terminals, Bette Ammon finds herself peering through a window to watch patrons moving through the Coeur d’Alene library’s nonfiction stacks.

Someone has been hiding books lately — specifically, those that explore politics through a progressive lens, or criticize President Trump. They wind up misfiled in out-of-the-way corners where readers will be sure not to find them.

“I am going to continue hiding these books in the most obscure places I can find to keep this propaganda out of the hands of young minds,” the mystery book relocator wrote in a note left for Ms. Ammon, the library director, in the facility’s comment box. “Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure.”

For decades, Coeur d’Alene has navigated a delicate political landscape in northern Idaho, a conservative corner of the country where some have sought refuge from political and social changes elsewhere.

The incidents over this past year — including a missing book that was discovered only this week — were not the first time books have mysteriously disappeared. Thirty years ago, the library lost so many books on human rights to theft that they had to be placed in a locked cabinet. The latest works to be targeted cover a wide range of topics, from gun control and women’s suffrage to LGBTQ issues and how people of color fare in the criminal justice system. About half the books specifically deal with President Trump.

While none of the books in the latest incidents appear to have been stolen, some have been hidden in ways that made it nearly impossible to find them when patrons wanted to check them out. They have been discovered inexplicably filed in the wrong sections, hidden behind a row of Stuart Woods novels, or shelved with the spine facing inward.

Read the rest here.

Moral Majority Veteran Cal Thomas on the Prosperity Preacher Who Just Joined Trump’s White House

Cal T

Here is what I wrote about Cal Thomas in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

When Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the Moral Majority in 1979 –in his attempt to clean up and win back America–journalist Cal Thomas and evangelical pastor Ed Dobson were two of the Moral Majority’s most important staff members.  Thomas put his journalism career on hold to join Falwell in Lynchburg as the Moral Majority’s vice president for communications.  Dobson, a professor at Falwell’s Liberty Baptist College (later to become Liberty University), served as a tireless promoter of the organization from his position as a member of the board.  During the 1980s, those two were influential in shaping the direction of the Moral Majority.  They believed in Falwell’s vision completely and served the cause with passion and zeal.

But in 1999, Dobson and Thomas reflected soberly on their experience with Falwell and the Moral Majority in their book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America?  They concluded that the answer to the subtitle’s question was a definitive “no.”  Neither Dobson nor Thomas left evangelicalism or ceased their commitment to conservative causes; but they were forced to admit that the political strategy they helped to forge in the 1980s had failed.  Despite their efforts, Roe v. Wade had not been overturned.  The Internet had made pornography more accessible than ever.  Drug use had not subsided, and crime had not dissipated in any significant way.  In the process, the prophetic witness of the evangelical church was subordinated to political power and all its trappings.  As Cal Thomas put it, in a reference to Palm Sunday, “Who wanted to ride into the capital on the back of an ass when one could go first class in a private jet and be picked up and driven around in a chauffeured limousine?

Thomas, who parlayed his Moral Majority fame into a nationally syndicated newspaper column, did not mince words when he disparaged the evangelical pursuit of political power, “Christian faith is about truth,” he tells his readers, and “whenever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.”  Through his years with Falwell, Thomas learned ho power is the “ultimate aphrodisiac.”  It is not only seductive, but also affects the judgment of the one who “takes it.”  Thomas warned his evangelical readers how the chase for political power threatens the spread of the gospel.  He quoted the late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen: “The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the gospel is the greatest temptation of all.”  Thomas pointed to the myriad ways in which the Moral Majority–and the Christian Right agenda that is spawned–played to the fears of white evangelicals.  For example, Moral Majority fundraising letters always followed a basic formula: “First, they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general.  Second the enemies are accused of being out to ‘get us’ or to impose their morality on the rest of the country.  Third, the letter assures the reader that something will be done…. Fourth, to get this job done, please send money.”  Thomas completely rejected the court evangelical notion that Christians need to have a “seat at the table.”  “Access” to political power, he argued, required compromise of “cherished and deeply held convictions.”  He added: “Religious leaders who seek favor with the king run the risk of refusing to speak truth to power out of fear that they won’t be invited back.”  

These are strong words.  Thomas offers a cautionary tale to today’s court evangelicals based on their own extensive experience in the king’s court.  (Of course this did not prevent Thomas from endorsing Donald Trump).  In his recent column he criticizes the selection of prosperity preacher Paula White as Trump’s new director of faith-based outreach.  Here is a taste:

As far as I can tell from a reading of history, while some presidents were friends of clergy, who sometimes advised them, to my knowledge, none hired them as staff members until the presidency of Richard Nixon. It was during Nixon’s administration that Charles Colson began mobilizing the evangelical community to support the president’s policies and programs, seeing evangelicals as just another special interest group, like organized labor has been for Democrats.

After his conversion and after serving time in prison for crimes related to the Watergate scandal, Colson told historian Kevin Kruse, as recounted in The Washington Post, “Sure, we used the prayer breakfasts and church services and all that for political ends. One of my jobs in the White House was to romance religious leaders. We would bring them into the White House, and they would be dazzled by the aura of the Oval Office, and I found them to be about the most pliable of any of the special interest groups that we worked with.”

The latest spiritual adviser to the president is TV evangelist Paula White-Cain. For 18 years she has claimed to have President Trump’s ear on religious matters, but while his policies closely align with evangelical concerns, there is little evidence her “advice” has had any effect on his personal behavior.

Ms. White-Cain is unlikely to serve the role Nathan the prophet filled when he confronted King David over his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, bringing David to repentance and one of the great statements about placing faith in political leaders: “Put not your trust in princes … in whom there is no help.” (Psalm 146:3)

Read the rest here.

Do Evangelicals Care What I Think About Trump?

Believe Me 3dHistorian David Swartz does not think so.

Here is Swartz at The Anxious Bench:

White evangelicals are doubling down on President Donald Trump. Their choices in 2016—Trump or Clinton—may have been distasteful to them then. But in 2019, their taste for Trump is heightening, even without a singular evil liberal personality yet serving as his foil.

To be sure, not all evangelicals are jumping on board. Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, prolific blogger and historian John FeaAtlantic writer Peter Wehner, Liberty student Rebecca Olsen, academician-activists Ron Sider and Richard Mouw, and many others have offered a steady stream of criticism.

These and other bracing rebukes of co-religionists who voted for Trump, however, have not done much to stanch support for the president. The divide between cosmopolitan evangelicals and populist evangelicals is too entrenched. In one of the most sobering scholarly articles I’ve ever read, James Guth shows that the “Populism Syndrome”—marked by “nationalism,” “authoritarianism,” “rough politics,” and “compromise bad”—is disproportionately practiced by evangelicals. Guth writes, “Populist Syndrome scores are a better predictor of a Trump vote among Evangelicals in 2016 than are party identification and ideology combined.” He continues, “White Evangelicals share with Trump a multitude of attitudes, including his hostility toward immigrants, his Islamophobia, his racism and nativism, as well as his political style, with its nasty politics and assertion of strong, solitary leadership.”

And he adds this:

But if you were only hanging out in the faculty lounge at an evangelical college or with humanitarians at an evangelical NGO in Phnom Penh, there’s a good chance you were shocked by the 81 percent. The election exposed the many evangelicalisms that have been there all along.

And this:

But they are reinforcing their cosmopolitan script with a selective historiography that does not reflect the full sweep of evangelical identities. Abolitionists never really represented the mainstream of evangelicalism. There were always more slaveholders and white Jacksonian patriarchs in the nineteenth century than Tappan brothers and Grimke sisters who championed social justice causes. Though some evangelical leaders have sought to refine the term in ways that minimized support for Donald Trump, they do not speak for most rank-and-file evangelicals. There continues to exist a vast subterranean populism that upsets establishment vanities.

Read the entire piece here.

“I’ve worked hard at trying to get rank-and-file evangelicals to rethink their support of this president.  And some have changed their minds.  I know this because they have told me.   But these are just anecdotes. In the end, Swartz is right.

But at least I took a shot.

I have been a longtime advocate of detached scholarship.  I made the case for this kind of scholarship in Why Study History?  But I also argued in that book that there are times when a scholar must use his or her knowledge, expertise, and resources in service to the church.  While other Christian scholars sat on the sidelines and offered detached analysis that they hoped would have a trickle-down effect, I jumped headfirst into the fray.  I don’t regret it one bit.

I continue to be inspired by the recent words of historian Carlo Ginzburg:

I must say that I don’t like sermons. If there is anything I can do, as a historian, from an analytical point of view, it is very good. It’s part of my job. But the situation is evolving in a way that I may have to get a little more involved. Yesterday, I was asked to comment on the screening of a film on immigration and I accepted. Would I have said yes five or ten years ago? The context is changing… Even if the idea of the committed intellectual is not something I particularly like.

Moreover, I have never understood myself as a “cosmopolitan.” (Swartz seems to place me in this camp). In fact, I once wrote a book and a Journal of American History article problematizing “cosmopolitan” as a form of identity.  I have also made the case, in Believe Me and elsewhere, that the kind of evangelical populism Swartz writes about has been around for a long, long time.  No “cosmopolitan script with a selective historiography” here.

Finally, I don’t spend much time in the faculty lounge at Messiah College (although I probably should–fellowship is good), I have never been to Phnom Penh, and I have no experience with NGOs.

So how should I respond to Swartz’s piece?  I can’t speak for the other “evangelical cosmopolitans” Swartz mentions, but I will persist in trying to get evangelicals to see that their propensity for fear, political power, and nostalgia is not healthy.  Someone has to keep saying it or else Trump’s words, behavior, actions, and policies will become normalized.

Court Evangelical Paula White Joins the White House Office of Public Liaison

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Paula White at the court with fellow court evangelical Franklin Graham

Paula White is the televangelist and megachurch pastor who claims to have led Donald Trump through his supposed born again experience.  Evangelical theologians and leaders have said  the prosperity gospel that she preaches is heretical.  We have covered White extensively here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

 

The Orlando Sentinel on court evangelical Paula White

More court evangelical fear mongering from Paula White

A court evangelical weighs-in on Thanksgiving in the age of Trump

Court Evangelical Paula White is the Latest to Use the Bible to Defend Trump’s Immigration Policies

Paula White responds to critics of her recent comments on immigration

Court Evangelical: Trump is “100 percent a Christian who understands repentance

Court Evangelical Says Trump’s “Two Corinthians” Gaffe Was a Set Up

Court Evangelical: “We were sent there to take over”

A Court Evangelical Exposed: Heat Street on Paula White

James Dobson Reveals the Evangelical Leader Who Brought Trump to Christ

Here is some of what I wrote about White in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

White’s life is a classic rags-to-riches story filled with hardship, struggle, and eventual victory (and wealth0 stemming from faith in Christ and positive thinking.  She often describes herself as a “messed-up Mississippi girl” who God saved from an early life of sexual and psychological abuse, poverty, and single motherhood.  She is not shy about sharing negative stories from her past because she believes her biography is a testament to how God can help ordinary people live the American dream.  As religion scholars Shayne Lee and Phillip Sinitiere note, White preaches a gospel of “redemption and second chances.”  After a neighbor in her trailer park led her to Christ, Paula married Pentecostal preacher Randy White.  The newlyweds scraped together enough resources to start a church in Tampa, Florida, that would eventually become Without Walls International Church. Well before the 2016 presidential election, White was preaching that individuals could make America great again through a combination of faith in God and self-esteem.  During one appearance on the Trinity Broadcast Network in 2007, White told her viewers that “anyone who tells you to deny yourself is from Satan.”

Lee and Sinitiere call White the “‘Oprah’ of the evangelical world.”  In 2001, she began Paula White Today, a television show that would soon appear on nine different television networks.  Her show and self-help books are filled with helpful advice for overcoming everyday problems. She hawks dietary supplements, teachers her followers how to lose weight (repent and stop eating sugar), and offers beauty tips.  According to Lee and Sinitiere, White “reinvented her image with extensive plastic surgery, modish hairstyles, perfectly manicured nails, chic silk suits, fitted dresses, and a leaner size 4 figure.”  White knows how to market her message and get her followers to send her money. For example, during the 2016 Lenten season, White preached a sermon from John 11:44–the passage in the Fourth Gospel in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  White told her viewers that just as Jesus raised Lazarus, they too could overcome’s life difficulties if they would only “sow the seed of faith” in the form of a $1,144 donation to her ministry.  White assured her listeners that she does not usually request such specific amounts of money, but this was different.  God had specifically instructed her to ask for this $1,144 to correspond with the Scripture passage he told her to preach. Those who donated would receive an anointed “prayer cloth” that would bring “signs and wonders” to their lives.  White herself owns a $2.1 million waterfront mansion and a $3.5 million condominium in Trump Tower in New York City.

Over the years several celebrities have become followers of White.  When pop icon Michael Jackson was arrested on child molestation charges in 2003, he asked White to come to his ranch and provide him with spiritual counsel.  Former New York Mets baseball star Darryl Strawberry sought White’s spiritual assistance amid his several stints in prison for drug-related offenses.  But White’s biggest start-caliber fan is Donald Trump.  In 2002, Trump, who had apparently seen White on television, reached out to the popular prosperity preacher and invited her to a meeting at Trump Tower.  White and her message must have impressed Trump. Following that meeting they remained friends, and Trump began to take White with him on Atlantic City excursions, where she would conduct Bible studies and prayer meetings with the celebrities who visited the casinos.  At some point in their ongoing relationship, White claimed that Trump had a born-again experience. When Religion News Service asked White about Trump’s conversion, she said that she was “one hundred percent” sure that he “confesses Jesus Christ as Lord,” adding that she “shared the Gospel with Mr. Trump,” using the “Roman Road map” (a popular took used by evangelicals to share their faith with others)…..

Now it appears that Paula White is working for the White House.  Here is a taste of the New York Times reporting:

Paula White, a televangelist based in Florida and personal pastor to President Trump whom he has known since 2002, has joined the Trump administration in an official capacity, according to a White House official.

Ms. White will work in the Office of Public Liaison, the official said, which is the division of the White House overseeing outreach to groups and coalitions organizing key parts of the president’s base. Her role will be to advise the administration’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, which Mr. Trump established last year by executive order and which aims to give religious groups more of a voice in government programs devoted to issues like defending religious liberty and fighting poverty.

As Mr. Trump campaigns for a second term, he cannot afford to lose support from the religious conservatives who voted for him in 2016 in significant numbers. Without their backing, his path to re-election would be significantly narrower.

He has taken repeated steps to ensure they turn out for him again — by issuing executive orders, making cabinet appointments and nominating federal judges that pass muster with the religious right. On a range of issues from abortion rights to tax exemptions for churches, Mr. Trump has tried to grant Christian conservatives their policy wish lists whenever legally and politically feasible.

But Ms. White cannot be easily categorized as either a political asset or a liability. She has a large following among Christians who believe in the “prosperity gospel,” which teaches that God blesses people he deems to be of strong faith with wealth, good health and other gifts.

Read the entire piece here.

Gerson:”Evangelicals have been reshaped into the image of Trump himself”

Trump Beleive me

Have evangelicals been reshaped by Trump?  Or has this dark side of evangelicalism always been present?  I made the latter argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is Gerson:

Consider the matter of immigration. Republicans who are WEPs are the most likely group to say that immigrants are invading America and changing its culture. More than 90 percent of WEPs favor more restrictive immigration policies. They support the policy of family separation at the border more strongly than other religious groups and more strongly than Americans as a whole.

How have we come to the point that American evangelicals are significantly crueler in their attitude toward migrant children than the national norm? The answer is simple enough. Rather than shaping President Trump’s agenda in Christian ways, they have been reshaped into the image of Trump himself. Or, more accurately, they have become involved in a political throuple with Trump and Fox News, in which each feeds the grievances and conspiracy thinking of the others.

The result has properly been called cultlike. For many followers, Trump has defined an alternative, insular universe of facts and values that only marginally resembles our own. According to the PRRI poll, nearly two-thirds of WEPs deny that Trump has damaged the dignity of his office. Ponder that a moment. Well over half of this group is willing to deny a blindingly obvious, entirely irrefutable, manifestly clear reality because it is perceived as being critical of their leader. Forty-seven percent of WEPs say that Trump’s behavior makes no difference to their support. Thirty-one percent say there is almost nothing that Trump could do to forfeit their approval. This is preemptive permission for any violation of the moral law or the constitutional order. It is not support; it is obeisance.

An extraordinary 99 percent of WEPs oppose the impeachment and removal of the president — which probably puts me in the smallest political minority I have ever had the honor of occupying.

Read the rest here.

“Welcoming the Stranger”

border-control-crisis

Back in July, I spoke with journalist Menachem Wecker about evangelicals and immigration.  I completely forgot about this conversation until I saw Wecker’s recent piece at Religion & Politics: “For Many Immigration Activits, Welcoming ‘Strangers’ Is an Act of Faith.’  Here is a taste:

Among American evangelical Christians, there are longstanding and deep divisions on immigration and refugees, John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, says. Fea is the author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. The spectrum of evangelical views on immigration range from Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine and author of the 2013 op-ed “The Bible’s case for immigration reform,” and the National Association of Evangelicals on the left, to groups on the right like Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration, Fea says.

Those in the same camp as Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration largely oppose granting citizenship to American-born children of undocumented immigrants affected by the DACA program, and would like to see borders either closely defended or severely restricted, Fea says. “[They] claim that these verses are manipulated by the evangelical opponents to serve their political interests,” he says. “Most claim that these verses about welcoming the stranger do not apply to illegal immigrants, because these immigrants are breaking the law.”

The essential evangelical division here, which divides along political lines, pits Christian compassion against rule of law. “The evangelical differences on immigration have been around for several decades, but right now politics seems to be shaping everything,” Fea says. “Almost all of the evangelicals, who support Trump’s Supreme Court nominations, [and] move of the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem … also oppose all forms of illegal immigration and are fearful about the arrival of these refugees. If they do have any moral qualms or pricks of conscience about the separation of families at the border or the treatment of refugees in detention centers, they do not speak up about it.”

Many white evangelicals, he says, believe that a wall is the only solution to the problem on the southern border. “They do not want to jeopardize their access to political power, because Trump is delivering on abortion and Supreme Court justices, and other issues that are more important to them than immigration reform,” Fea says. “Evangelical Christianity in America has been divided for a long time, but the immigration debate, and Trump’s handling of it, reveals this division perhaps more than anything else.”

Read the entire piece here.

Thoughts on Attorney General William Barr’s Notre Dame Speech

I find myself in agreement with a lot of Barr’s speech. Watch and decide for yourself:

Here are a few quick thoughts:

  1. Barr is correct about the founding father’s view of the relationship between religion and the American republic.  They did believe that was religion was essential for a healthy republic.  In the 18th century, Christianity was for the most part the only game in town, but I would argue that many of the founders had the foresight to imagine non-Christian religious people contributing to the good of the republic as well.  Barr fails to think about how the founders’ vision on this front applies to a post-1965 Immigration Act society.  Granted, he is speaking at Notre Dame, so I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
  2. It is unclear whether Barr is saying that the Judeo-Christian tradition is the only way of sustaining a moral republic, or just one way of sustaining a moral republic.  I would guess that he means the former, not the latter.  As a Christian, I do believe that the teachings of Christianity can be an important source of morality in a republic. As a historian I know that Christianity has been an important source of morality in the ever-evolving American experience.  (See the Civil Rights Movement for example).  And as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, when misapplied Christianity has led to some of our history’s darkest moments, including the election of Barr’s boss.  😉
  3. All of Barr’s examples of how religious liberty is threatened in America today are Christian examples.  How does he think about religious liberty for other groups?  And if Barr is correct when he says that “secularism” is a form of religion, then how are we defending the religious liberty of those who adhere to it?
  4. Barr is right when he says that the state is getting too involved in trying to regulate Christian schools and institutions.  This is indeed a religious liberty issue. I wrote a a bit about this in my posts on Beto O’Rourke’s recent remarks on tax-exempt status for churches and other religious institutions.
  5. I agree strongly with Barr about voluntary societies and their contribution to a thriving republic.  But I wondered why Barr ended his speech by saying that he will use the power of the Department of State to enforce his moral agenda for the nation.  Barr is against churches turning to the government for help in the funding of soup kitchens, but he has no problem turning to the government for help in executing his own religious agenda.
  6. Similarly, Barr seems to be speaking here not as a public or moral philosopher, but as the Attorney General of the United States of America.   How should we understand his particular vision for America–an agenda that does not seem to include anyone who is outside of the Judeo-Christian faith as Barr understands it? How does his vision apply to those who do not share the same beliefs about public schools, marriage, religion, abortion or the role of the state? How do we reconcile his speech at Notre Dame with his responsibility to defend the law for all Americans?
  7. Barr says that Judeo-Christian morality no longer has the kind of cultural power in American society that it once did.  I think he is mostly right here.  For some this may be a good thing.  For others it may be a bad thing.  But is it possible to prove that this decline in the cultural power of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America has led to a rise in illegitimate births, depression and mental illness, suicide rates, anger in young males, increased drug use and general “suffering and misery?” On this point Barr sounds like David Barton, the GOP activist who irresponsibly invokes the American past to win political battles in the present.  (BTW, Barton adds lower SAT scores to Barr’s list).  By the way, abortions have been declining.  How does Barr fit this fact into his narrative of decline.
  8. I have never bought the “look what they are teaching our kids in public schools” argument that Barr makes here.  Both of my kids went to public schools and they were exposed to a lot of ideas that contradict our faith.  (By the way, in addition to the usual suspects that evangelicals complain about, I would add an unhealthy pursuit of the American Dream that understands happiness in terms of personal ambition, social climbing, a lack of limits, and endless consumerism to the anti-Christian values my kids learn in public schools).  At the end of his talk, Barr calls on families to pass their faith along to their children. He calls on churches to educate young men and women in the moral teachings of the faith.  If we are committed to doing this well, what do we have to fear about public schools?  Some of the best conversations I have ever had with my daughters revolved around the things they were exposed to in public schools that did not conform to the teachings of our Christian faith. These were opportunities to educate them in our Christian beliefs. (I realize, of course, that there will be people who will have honest differences with me here).
  9.  Barr says that real education is something more than just job training.  Amen!
  10.  Finally, this quote from Barr’s talk is rich coming from Donald Trump’s Attorney General: “[The Founders] never thought that the main danger to the republic would come from external foes.  The central question was whether over the long haul ‘we the people’ could handle freedom.  The question was whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.  By and large the founding generations understanding of human nature was drawn from the classical Christian tradition. These practical statesman understood that individuals, while having the potential for great good also had the capacity for great evil.  Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites and if unrestrained are capable of riding ruthlessly roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.  No society can exist without some means of restraining individual rapacity.”  I think the House of Representatives (or at least the Democrats within it, seem to understand this better than most right now).

Ralph Reed’s Forthcoming Book Claims That Evangelicals Have a “Moral Obligation” to Support Trump

Believe Me 3d

Politico is reporting that court evangelical Ralph Reed, one of the early architects of the Christian Right, has written a book calling for evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump.  Regnery Publishing, known for their conservative books, will release the book in April 2020.

As some of you know, I also wrote a book about evangelicals and Donald Trump. It is titled Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpEerdmans Publishing will release the paperback in January 2020, three months before Reed’s For God and Country hits the shelves.  In this book I make the case that American evangelicals DO NOT have a moral obligation to vote for Donald Trump.

Here is a taste of Gabby Orr’s piece at Politico:

One of Donald Trump’s most prominent Christian supporters will argue in a book due out before the 2020 general election that American evangelicals “have a moral obligation to enthusiastically back” the president.

The book’s author, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, became a loyal foot soldier for Trump immediately after he nabbed the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — commanding hordes of white evangelical voters from his perch on the candidate’s religious advisory board to trust that the New York businessman would grow the economy, defend religious freedom and dismantle federal protections for abortion, if elected.

According to the book’s description, obtained by POLITICO, the original title for the book was “Render to God and Trump,” a reference to the well-known biblical verse, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The message from Jesus in Matthew 22, has been used in contemporary politics to justify obedience to government — or in the case of Reed’s book, to Trump.

Regnery Publishing confirmed the book’s existence but said the title is “For God and Country: The Christian case for Trump.” The publisher declined to comment on the reason for the title change.

In his book, Reed will “persuasively” argue evangelicals have a duty to defend the incumbent Republican leader against “the stridently anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and pro-abortion agenda of the progressive left,” according to the description.

He will also rebut claims by religious and nonreligious critics that white evangelical Protestants “revealed themselves to be political prostitutes and hypocrites” by overwhelmingly backing Trump, a twice-divorced, admitted philanderer, in 2016.

“Critics charge that evangelical Trump supporters … have so thoroughly compromised their witness that they are now disqualified from speaking out on moral issues in the future,” the description reads.

Read the entire piece here.

Why Do I Keep Repeating Myself?

Trump court evangelicals

Some might say I am obsessed with Trump and the evangelicals who support him.  Maybe that’s true.  But I keep writing and posting about Trump and the court evangelicals for a couple of reasons:

  1. I have written a book on the subject and I hope short-form writing might direct people toward my longer thoughts on the matter of Donald Trump and his evangelical supporters.  By the way, the book is titled Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpThe hardback is available at most booksellers and the paperback, with a new epilogue, will be released by Eerdmans in January 2020.
  2. Fear, power, and nostalgia continue to define evangelical political engagement and I believe that such an approach is not Christian. If people stop bringing thus up, Trump’s behavior and the court evangelical defense of him might become normalized.

If you are tired of it all, feel free to change the channel.  I will not be offended.

The Third Great Evangelical Awakening is Here and Donald Trump is Leading It

Believe Me 3dDonald Trump claims that his impeachment is “electrifying” the evangelical churches.  He talks as if he is somehow responsible for a religious revival that is apparently influencing “hundreds of thousands” of people.  Hallelujah!  It is the Third Great Awakening!

Watch:

Here is a question to consider:  Is Trump right?  Are people joining churches because they want to rally around the president during this impeachment crisis?  If so, what does this say about American evangelicalism?

Why do so many evangelicals support Trump?  I tried to answer this question in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  It will appear in paperback in January 2020, just in time for primary season.  In the meantime, check out the book’s recently updated website.

I’m open for some more book talks or lectures in the wake of the paperback release.  Let me know if you are interested in setting something up for Winter, Spring or Summer 2020.

Yes, I am Doubling Down on the Fear Thesis

Believe Me 3dMy friend John Wilson, the evangelical bibliophile who once manned the editor’s desk of Books & Culture, has never quite embraced my argument about fear in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  I will let him explain why he finds it so distasteful by citing a passage from his review of my book in The Hedgehog Review:

As a mea culpa of sorts, Fea has written three chapters—“The Evangelical Politics of Fear,” “The Playbook,” and “A Short History of Evangelical Fear”—that together make up more than half of his book (not counting the footnotes) and that precede his extended treatment of the court evangelicals. “Evangelical Fear”: That’s the answer! Oh, dear. It’s not just dismaying to me, it’s shocking (to borrow a word from Fea himself) to see such an excellent historian relying on the tired trope of “evangelical fear” to reduce the story of a many-sided movement and its infinitely various membership over several centuries to a simple morality play. “It is possible,” Fea says, “to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of Christians who have failed to overcome fear.” Possible, yes, just as it’s possible to write triumphalist histories of evangelicalism (of which we’ve had all too many). But are those our only choices?

Read the rest here.

And here is my response to the review.

Earlier this evening I did a post on the Religion News Service’s interview with Franklin Graham.  Journalist Yonat Shimron asked Graham all the right questions.  I am quoted in the piece:

Sounding the alarm about a nation in peril is a tried-and-true evangelical strategy, said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

“I’ve argued this has been a typical part of evangelical political engagement for centuries — fear mongering,” said Fea. “You can’t make an argument to support what the president did on his phone call with the Ukrainian president. So what do you do? You play the traditional game of instilling fear in the electorate so they will see us falling off the cliff as a nation and this apocalyptic language will convince them they have to vote for Trump again in 2020.”

When I tweeted the article, John Wilson posted a sarcastic tweet in response:

I responded to much of Wilson’s argument in this tweet in my aforementioned (and linked) post to his review in The Hedgehog Review, but let me write a few more words here.

Am I afraid of the legacy that Donald Trump and the court evangelicals will leave for the nation and the church?  Yes.  I am very afraid.  But I also realize that I cannot dwell in this fear and, through the spiritual disciplines of my faith, respond to such fears with hope.  In other words, I need to trust God more.  As the writer Marilynne Robinson once said, “fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”

But I should also add that any fear I might have about Trump, the court evangelical agenda, and their legacy is based on truth and facts.  This is different from the fear I see among many of Trump’s evangelical supporters.

Most evangelical fear is built upon endless lies. These include the false idea that America was founded as a Christian nation and needs to be reclaimed, the straw man that all Democrats are socialists, Marxists, and atheists trying to undermine American liberty, the idea that impeachment will lead to a civil war, the belief that immigrants will kill us if they get too close, or the conviction that abortion will end if we just overturn Roe v. Wade.   The overwhelming majority of conservative evangelical Christians who I know and talk to on a regular basis believe one or more of these false claims.  They get their talking points from Fox News and then read the Bible to make it fit with these talking points.  They believe that there is a deep state–an illuminati working to undermine God’s anointed president.  They are so afraid of Hillary Clinton that they think she should be locked-up.  They believe that demonic forces are unraveling America.  And if anyone offers an alternative view to these beliefs they will be castigated as a purveyor of “fake news.”  Again, I have spoken at length to evangelical family members, readers of this blog, and members of my church who believe one or more of these things.  I get their nasty e-mails, social media messages, and multi-part voice messages.

John Wilson–you need to get out more. The fearful people I am writing about here do not read back issues of Books & Culture or attend the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing.  They do not talk theology in the coffee shops of Wheaton, Illinois.  There is an entire world of evangelical Christians out there who you have not yet met. They are very afraid.  They seek comfort in strongmen of both the political and religious variety.  Donald Trump and the court evangelicals are exploiting their fears for political gain.

Will Trump-Supporting Evangelicals Learn Anything from the Graham-Nixon Relationship?

Graham and Nixon

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,  I wrote:

[Billy] Graham’s relationship with Richard Nixon brought him closer to the world of presidential politics than he had ever been before.  The two stayed in close contact during the years following Nixon’s loss to Kennedy in the election of 1960 and the evangelist continued to speak positively about the politician in public venues.  In a 1964 interview in McCall’s magazine, Graham expressed his bafflement that he often heard people say  “I just don’t like Nixon.”  According to Graham, the former vice president was “one of the warmest and most likeable men I have ever known.”  Nixon claimed that Graham encouraged him  him to run for president again in 1968, and Graham, in turn, suggested that Nixon’s second change at the nation’s highest political office was part of God’s providential plan.  During Nixon’s years in the White House (1969-1974) , Graham made regular visits to the president, served as an unofficial surrogage (without formally endorsing him), advised Nixon on policy decision, and publicly thanked God for his presidency.  [Historian Steven] Miller goes as far to suggest that there were times when “Graham’s [religious] services or appearances seemed to double as Nixon rallies.”  Nixon used Graham to win evangelical votes, especially in the South. where Nixon needed the votes of white southern Christians–his so-called “Southern strategy”–and Graham believed that Nixon was a moral statesman, God’s man to lead a Christian nation.

But Graham would quickly learn that Richard Nixon was one man in Graham’s presence and quite another when operating in the cutthroat world of presidential politics.  During the Watergate scandal, Graham stood by the president.  During the 1972 election campaign, he chided Nixon’s opponent, South Dakota senator George McGovern, for saying that the Nixon administration was up to something sinister.  In one letter to President Nixon, Graham quoted Psalm 35:11-12, where the psalmist writes: “They accuse me of things I have never heard about.  I do them good, but they return me harm.”  [Historian Grant] Wacker says that Graham “continued to defend Nixon long after most Americans smelled a rate.”  In December 1973 , the evangelist told Nixon that he had “complete confidence” in his “personal integrity.”  When transcripts of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations (which included Nixon’s strongly anti-Semitic language) proved that the president was ultimately responsible for the Watergate break-in, Graham seemed more concerned about Nixon’s profanity on the tapes than the fact that the president was using his power to cover up his crimes.  When Graham read excerpts of the tapes in The New York Times, he claimed to feel “physically sick.”  Years later, Graham admitted that his relationship with the disgraced former president had “muffled those inner monitors that had warned me for years to stay out of partisan politics” and, as Wacker notes, “he urged young evangelists to avoid his mistake.”

There are a lot of similarities between Graham’s relationship with Nixon and the court evangelicals‘ relationship with Donald Trump.  Have the court evangelicals learned anything from Billy Graham?  Over at The Washington Post, Anja Maria-Bassimir and Elesha Coffman offer a revealing look into the way evangelical magazines responded to Graham’s relationship with Nixon during the Watergate scandal.  Here is a taste:

While Graham enjoyed private chats in the Nixon White House and urged his fellow citizens to rally around the flag at Honor America Day, another prominent evangelical, then-Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), warned that a bad graft between religion and politics was turning gangrenous. “We would always rather hide our wounds than heal them,” he said at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Chicago in May 1973. “It is always more comfortable to believe in the symbols of righteousness than to acknowledge the reality of evil. This is especially true in our national political life. And we have become adroit at manipulating religious impulses in our land to sanctify this political life.”

People in power, such as Hatfield, had to work even harder to resist such craven impulses. He noted: “When we are given a position of leadership, it becomes almost second nature to avoid admitting that we may be wrong. Confession becomes equated with weakness. The urge toward self-vindication becomes enormous, almost overpowering. A politician faces this temptation in a very special way, for somehow it has become a political maxim never to admit that one is wrong. Now, that may be wise politics. But it’s terrible Christianity.” These sentiments earned Hatfield a place on Nixon’s infamous “enemies list” and a concerned letter from Graham, according to the book “Lonely Walk.”

As revelations about the Watergate break-in and subsequent coverup accumulated in 1973 and 1974, many evangelicals vacillated between Hatfield’s warnings and Graham’s reassurances. At first, only Hatfield’s allies in the small but vocal evangelical left sounded the alarm. Hatfield’s speech echoed the rhetoric of his friend Jim Wallis, who regularly hit these ominous notes in his radical magazine, the Post-American (later renamed Sojourners). Then, the far-from-radical magazine Eternity chimed in, as columnist Joseph Bayly wrote: “Whether we like it or not, a major problem we face as evangelical Christians today is the identification in the popular mind of the religious position we represent with the Nixon administration and its actions. We are ‘middle America,’ the group sector that gave President Nixon his ‘mandate.’ We are the war party, the white backlash (if not racist) party, the Watergate scandal party.”

Finally, the more staid Christianity Today — the magazine founded by Billy Graham — came around. It had printed Hatfield’s speech in June 1973, but also Graham’s “mistakes and blunders” comments several months later. Appearing reluctant, in June 1974, an editorial argued for Nixon’s impeachment. Authors acknowledged that “evangelicals can point to some in their ranks whose private or public conduct is disgraceful, perhaps even worse than that displayed by the Watergate participants.” Ten years later, Graham told the magazine: “I came close to identifying the American way of life with the kingdom of God.” He said he had learned his lesson. And near the end of his life, he said: “I also would have steered clear of politics.”

Read the entire piece here.

Some Thoughts on the Opposition to the 1619 Project

1619

We introduced readers to The New York Times 1619 Project in this post.  It now looks like there are some people who do not like the newspaper’s attempt to observe the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.  Here are a few examples:

I am not surprised by any of this.  I knew there would be push-back when I read that The New York Times was framing the 1619 Project as an attempt to “frame the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and, placing the consequences of slavery, and the contribution of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”

I wonder if any of the aforementioned tweeters have read the essays in the 1619 Project.  Most of them probably stopped after they read the words “frame” and “true founding.”

Historians, of course, have been bringing slavery to the center of the American story for a long time–more than half a century.  The 1619 Project reflects this scholarship and takes it to its logical conclusion.

Frankly, the 1619 project is excellent.  Americans need to wrestle with the legacy of slavery.  I hope teachers will use it in their classrooms.

Newt Gingrich is completely wrong when he says that “if you are an African American slavery is at the center of what YOU see as the American experience, but for most Americans, most of the time, there were a lot of other things going on.” Gingrich is an embarrassment.  (I am especially tough on him because he has a Ph.D in history).

So what were some of those “other things going on?”

Edmund Morgan, of course, showed us that American freedom has always been intricately linked to American slavery.  Pennsylvania farmers in the so-called “best poor man’s country in the world,” pursued their “American” dream by supplying grain to feed West Indian slaves in the British sugar colonies.  As historians Edward Baptist, Sven Beckert, and others have taught us, slavery fueled capitalism and American economic growth.  Even those living in the free-soil north benefited from the wealth generated by slave labor.  As Robert Parkinson argues in his recent book, the racial fears of American patriots had something to do with the way they understood the Revolution.  In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I trace the history of race and the legacy of slavery in shaping an evangelical approach to political life.  And we could go on.

But there is plenty of room at the “center” of the American story for native Americans, women, working people, white people, and many others.  We can’t forget, for example, that Western ideas, as articulated in some of our founding documents and by people of Christian faith, provided the impetus for the abolition of slavery.

History is messy and complex.  We should make every effort to remember our past.  And now is the time to remember the significance of 1619 and the central role that slavery and racism has played in the making of America.